Archive | June, 2015

#EducationFest 2015: a feast of pedagogical delights!

22 Jun


Education Festival


I shouldn’t really have been there.

After all, how could I justify taking two days off school to attend a jolly at Wellington College? For the record, Wellington College is Hogwarts without the wizards.

Luckily, my head decided I was allowed two days out for good behaviour and as a present for the publication of our first book.

Wellington College is an amazing setting for what turned out to be two days of high-quality speakers that left my head reeling with ideas. It was incredibly difficult to choose the sessions to attend as all of them had something to offer. What I appreciated in particular was there didn’t seem to be an ‘agenda’ for the festival; all too often you can attend educational events and realise that everyone presenting has the same educational outlook, which can get a bit much by the end of the day. Here, difference of opinions were not only tolerated by positively embraced! All pedagogical approaches were given airspace which made the festival a real joy to attend.



wellington college


My highlights of the festival

Normally when I get back from a conference or course, the inevitable write-up of what I’ve learnt and how I will disseminate it takes place; I have to admit that I have found it a bit tiresome at times… This time, however, I couldn’t wait to get back to school and share with colleagues some of the exciting and innovative ideas I heard over the two days.

Things that have stuck with me over the weekend…

Geoff Barton’s passion for literacy. The man seems to live and breathe all things literacy. I came away from his session inspired and determined to implement a more cohesive approach to reading in my school. He also challenged anyone who starts a sentence with ‘Well, Ofsted says…’ to remove an item of clothing as punishment!

Dylan Wiliam has to be one of the cleverest people working in education. Having done my PGCE at King’s when Inside The Black Box was one of the most exciting pieces of research doing the rounds at the time, I have always viewed him as some sort of educational god. I feel no different over a decade later. He had the crowd eating out of his hands and he makes the most difficult of concepts accessible to those such as myself who may struggle with data and graphs. He is awesome.

David Didau has really put his neck on the line with his latest book. He pulls no punches when it comes to telling us we’re all wrong but he does it with such panache that it’s hard to take offense! He got one of the biggest laughs of the day when he said that ‘Good’ had become the new shit. This certainly rang true for a lot of us listening in the hall. He convinced me of my ‘wrongness’ so much that I shelled out 25 quid for his book before I left the festival.

Going to the Pupil Premium funding session, led by Andrew Morrish, Mary Myatt and Apples and Pears Foundation was a real eye-opener. I have to admit I was doing some metaphorical fist pumping when Andrew said that some of the best work we do with disadvantaged students cannot be measured. The panel were full of useful tips for making effective use of Pupil Premium funding and the audience were asked the question: ‘If Pupil Premium funding ended tomorrow, what interventions would you stop doing? Get rid of those anyway as they’re not worth it.’

Meeting up with Carl Hendrick, head of research at Wellington College, who I haven’t seen since we finished our PGCE. He hasn’t changed a bit and I had several pangs of nostalgia listening him speak to the audience about the role of research in schools. He is such a passionate speaker and is doing great, innovative work with Harvard Graduate School of Education to improve the way schools use and participate in research.

Bumping into Phil Stock on day two of the festival; we ended up having a great geeky chat about all things CPD and he made an excellent lunchtime companion – although he shamed me into buying four new books to read over the summer to keep up with his ferocious reading habits!

And then there was Tom Sherrington. I would work for him in a heartbeat (as would Mel). His values are spot-on. He discussed his efforts in implementing a National Baccalaureate and incorporating the principles in Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21st Century. Listening to Tom speak really does make you believe that the educators of the Heads Roundtable can make a difference to our educational environment. It was touching to see Tom get teary eyed as he ended his presentation with a photo of one of his students enjoying an outdoor adventure experience and learning so much from it that a classroom alone couldn’t give that young man. This moment reminded me of Andrew Morrish’s earlier words about some of our most important work not lending itself to measuring impact in terms of hard data.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have collated all of my notes from the two days and am ready to share with colleagues. If you’re interested in finding out more about the speakers discussed in this post, then you can check out my Prezi here.


Thanks to all those involved in making it such a great two days of learning!

The story of a book

7 Jun

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If I did the Myers-Briggs test, I’d come out as an introvert. Perhaps I’m a typical scientist because I’m the type who will sit in a meeting and observe, assess all the evidence and possibly say something towards the end. I remember the interview for my National Strategy consultant job involved a ‘fishbowl discussion’ where we were asked to discuss a topic and a few people stood around the edge observing. I said very little as various people vied for the floor to have their opinion heard. Surprisingly, I made it through, despite saying very little, but I suppose that was quite an important skill for a consultant to have: To listen.

I think one of the reasons that working with Debbie was (and still is) so fantastic is that we go about things very differently. We worked together as ASTs a few years ago and if I picture the two of us in a meeting it would seem as though I wasn’t there half the time! Debbie would be a Myers-Briggs extrovert. She talks a lot but in such a good way – she asks really perceptive and challenging questions, perhaps typical of an English (as well as Media and Film, she’ll kill me if I miss those out) teacher, she is very good with words. Ever the scientist, I’d observe, listen and make a couple of points or ask a question towards the end and leave the meeting still pondering on some of the points raised.

So what led us to write a book together? I’m going to be honest here; I decided quite a few years ago that I was going to have a try. I had a boyfriend at the time who had edited a book and regularly wrote articles for specialist magazines (I know, that sounds intriguing, I just don’t want to give too much away to protect identities but they weren’t that type of publication). The thing was, he asked me to proof-read and check the spelling and grammar ‘because you’re a teacher’ and as I did this I thought: ‘Well if he can do this why can’t I?’

Fast forward a few years and I was working with Debbie on some training sessions focusing on moving from Good to Outstanding. These sessions went down well and I started asking people whether they thought they’d read a book along these lines. I discussed this with Debbie and obviously, she asked all the right questions and there we were. We spent the summer holiday that year writing a chapter each and then emailing it to one another. We were so excited and started the challenging process of giving it a name. I was totally taken, in my naivety, with ‘The O word’ but various people politely informed me that this might mean a different thing to many people and I might want to rethink that one!

One of the things we realised once we’d finished was that we should really get someone to proof-read what we had and this is where my lovely Dad came in. Bless him, he went through every single word of the book and forensically edited it. He didn’t just check the spelling, punctuation and grammar (but I would like to mention here that Debbie, the English teacher, definitely had more grammar errors than me. This was a proud moment for someone who had to work very hard to get an A in GCSE English!), he also cross referenced and checked for continuity errors. It must have taken him days, quite possibly longer than it took us to write in the first place.

The story of publishing is that it took quite a while. We submitted a proposal to a small publisher and although they were interested, it didn’t seem to be the right time and didn’t come to anything. It was during this process that we discovered Twitter. The forms from the publisher all asked about Twitter accounts and blog sites and we didn’t have a clue about any of this. One of our ex-colleagues had moved to a school that was already using Twitter a lot and she had been badgering us to get on board so we decided to have a look. At the time, it seemed like a perfect solution to the fact that Debbie had taken on an Assistant Head job in a different school and we were both panicking that we weren’t going to be able to work together any more.

It isn’t an understatement to say the Twitter changed our lives. OK, so maybe not in a momentous way, but it has had the biggest effect on my career since getting that Nat Strat consultancy job. The people on Twitter are amazing; I could watch debates and discussions (and cusses about football from @JamesTheo and @C_Hendrick) all day and the support network is unbelievable. We started blogging and I could not believe the feedback. As I said, I struggled through GCSE English and here were people reading and enjoying what I had written. As an aside, people have said to me that they really want to blog but don’t know how to start and this is what I tell them: I start pondering about something when my brain is in ‘autopilot mode’, for example, when I’m driving or in the shower, and then I just sit with the laptop and type what is in my head as if I were saying it.

Back to the story. We are so glad we set up the Twitter account and one of the many fantastic outcomes has been making contact with the delightful Holly from Bloomsbury publishing. Holly was brimming with energy and enthusiasm from the outset and it spurred us on to make the many, many (many) edits to our book.


So June 18th 2015 is the release date for ‘Lesson Planning Tweaks for Teachers’ an important date of course but today has been a much more important day for me: The day I got to show my Dad an actual copy of our book. It’s an important day because I didn’t think I’d be able to do this and every time we had more changes to make I became surer it wouldn’t happen.

In September 2014 my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour and for someone so cerebral and proud of his intelligence it was the worst possible news. We (me, my brother and sister) were devastated and made the most of every moment as doctors warned us he was unlikely to make it past Christmas. Dad has been so brave and determined for his children and grandchildren and we have been so blessed to have months longer than expected. I’ve been selfish recently when Dad has said he’s had enough, I’ve said: ”Just hang in there, you can see my book in a few days.”  So today I finally got to show him that all his hard work was worth it and his comment?

“When’s the second book out?”


Reflections from Teachers’ Book Group

1 Jun

It’s that wonderful time of year again. Exam classes leaving and everyone wants to claim some of your precious gained time. My favourite aspect is that I can take time to reflect on the year and start planning what I’d like to focus on next year and STILL travel to and from work while it’s light!

We tried out a few new things this year and my favourite has been a teaching and learning book group. This has been shared by some fantastic bloggers from @shaun­_allison to @dan_brinton but I’m going to share a few points that you might want to consider if you are thinking of setting up a teaching book group.


Is it worth it?

If in doubt about whether it’s a good idea, stop doubting. It is. A book group is amazing for more reasons that you may have thought.

  1. It makes staff feel valued: They get books of their own, an opportunity to learn something new, to consider different viewpoints and share ideas.
  2. It will set off a buzz: There may be things people strongly agree or disagree with, techniques people have never thought of before or research that completely changes the way they think and teach. This buzz will spread as teachers start discussing things they have read or sharing ideas they have tried out.
  3. It is ongoing CPD: Just how ongoing might depend how book group members read it – do they dip in and out regularly or do a last minute readathon the weekend before the meeting! However, is does mean that throughout the year, each teacher will spend a considerable amount of time reading, trying out something new or reflecting. This is like being an NQT again but hopefully without the constant feeling of exhaustion (I don’t think that was just me!) Our book group has been composed of staff from a range of departments and experiences, including a member of SLT, but all have been in that stage of their career when their impact is apparently at risk of levelling off. (There has been a lot of discussion about this idea and the graph below but this post is not the place for it, see @pedagog_machine’s post I think the injection of thought –provoking reading and discussion is a great way to avoid this and get on the dotted line on the graph below.
  4. It is great value for money: Yes, there is a cost implication but when it boils down to it, you are investing in your staff and when you compare the cost of buying a few books to the cost of a day’s external training, factoring in the cost of cover, it is actually pretty cheap.


From David Weston’s (@informed_edu) presentation at Research Ed 2014.

Points to consider

So having run a book group for a year, there are a few points that it would be useful to think about:

  1. Budget: One of the selling points already mentioned is that a book group offers good value for money, but there is still a cost implication. I started by working out the cost per person based on a range of books, including a couple that were more pricey and others that were mid-range. The next question is where the budget will come from – does it come under CPD, or is there a library budget that could cover some of the cost?
  2. Keep or loan: The ideal scenario is for the book group members to be rewarded for their investment of time by being able to keep the books, but if the budget is really tight, perhaps you could buy a smaller number of each book and have a couple of smaller book groups that run on a rotation basis? That way, when they books are finished with they could end up in the library for other interested staff to refer to. Perhaps if this is the model you decide is best for your school, you could allow each book group member to choose their favourite book to keep at the end of the year. An alternative to keep the cost down might be to team up with a couple of local schools and agree to each buy a couple of sets of books that are shared between the three schools.
  3. Rules: This has been a tricky one for me. The idea of setting up the group is that the members are agreeing to commit to reading a book per half term but this has not always been possible. Staff may leave, take on a new responsibility or just not stick with it and this can be quite frustrating for whoever is leading the group. It isn’t possible to avoid this completely, but I have found it better to order the books after each meeting rather than buying them all in at the start of the year. I have also made a point of ensuring that the meetings are arranged and books distributed with a holiday available, for those people who don’t read as much during term time.  I have also found it helpful to send out a reminder email a couple of weeks before the meeting for those last minute crammers!
  4. Book selection: This can be the most fun aspect but it is worth doing a bit of research before choosing your book each time. You may want to take into account the particular development priorities in your school, the areas of interest of your group members or the type of book that you read previously. As mentioned above, you may wish to order the books throughout the year and this can give you a chance to ask your book group to vote on the next book they would like to read. Our books for this year are listed below and some were popular with everyone, while others gave polar opinions.
  5. Sharing: Think about how you can share the findings from the book group. This is a fantastic opportunity to ask book group members to write a short article for a staff bulletin, post resources on a sharing board or even to ask people to run a short CPD session (like the Fifteen Minute Forum discussed by @shaun_allison in his fab book ‘Perfect Teacher-led CPD’ Another really effective strategy is setting up a blog for the book group so that staff can share their thoughts on the books with the rest of the school.


Book Selection

Teach like a champion: Doug Lemov

Full on Learning: Zoё Elder

The Hidden Lives of Learners: Graham Nuthall

Embedded Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam

Mindset: Carol Dweck

Practice Perfect: Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook: Jim Smith

Trivium 21C: Martin Robinson


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